Category Archives: The South African Series

I Can Guarantee You That Blessing Okagbare Was Far From Embarrassed About Her Wig Falling Off.

Blessing Okagbare is a much-decorated Nigerian athlete who competes in in sprinting, long jump and triple jump. She’s competed in the Olympics, Common Wealth and All Africa Games, and most recently, in the Oslo Diamond League in Norway. It is here where the world became acquainted with Okagbare, not for her prowess on the field, but because of her hair. As you probably well already know, she and her wig parted ways during the long jump.

 

 

Are you finished laughing? Please let me know when you’ve composed yourself so that we can continue. Ahaaa. Let’s go!

One of many headlines declaring Blessing is embarrassed. Has she told you she is embarrassed? You dey lie bad.

In the wake of this gravitational wig snatching, headlines and commenters from around the globe have bandied about the idea that Blessing Okagbare must have been embarrassed about her wig falling off during her event. There’s no way she couldn’t have been, right? I mean, your hair (or in this case, some Chinese manufactured form of it) literally separated itself from your body on an international stage. Mortifying, yes?

No!

Let me say it again: No! This will not get you down. Not if you’re a Nigerian woman, or a Black woman in the Diaspora of a certain caliber.

Let me tell you something about Nigerian women: They have bigger concerns than worrying about feelings of embarrassment, despite what the western media would have us believe. Though I do not share their nationality, I have had the blessing (pun fully intended) of calling many Nigerian women sisters and friends, and have shared sacred space with them online. One of those spaces is FIN – an acronym for Female In Nigeria. It is a closed group with strict rules about disclosure, so I certainly will not betray the group’s trust or risk my privileged access to the site by going into specifics. I can say this: There is no woman – no person – who suffers like Nigerian women. Between the Church, the in-laws, some random Honda Accord-driving bozo who demands wife material (and service) on the first date, Boko Haram and your random lascivious Senator, the things that are done to and said about Nigerian women’s bodies create an incredible amount of pressure on this group. Nevertheless, they persist and continue to excel.

Look at Luvvie.

Look at Chimamanda.

Look at Folorunso.

Their accolades and achievements did not come without sacrifice, hardship and ridicule. Chimamanda has spoken about an essay that she wrote while she was in college. It was apparently the best essay in class, and the professor wanted to acknowledge the student. When she raised her hand, he looked at her in disbelief before repeating his inquiry…As if how could a woman from Darkest Africa produce such excellent work? This is just one of the myriad indignities women of color are continually made to suffer. The abilities of our minds and potential of the body are frequently downplayed and suppressed, unless it’s in the service and for the benefit of someone else.

Ahaaa. Let’s continue.

I don’t know why Blessing Okagbare chose to wear a wig in Oslo this week, but I can hazard a guess. Despite India Arie’s postulation to the contrary, Black women are and will continue to be our hair. There is a fair amount of handwringing from the New African and Hotep crowd online who have shamed Okagbare for her choice to wear a hairpiece. The most vocal have been men. Female critics have taken to sniggering, rather than perform outright criticism.

“She looks better with her natural hair!”

“It is an embarrassment for an African woman to go and look for some dead Indian woman’s hair to tape on to her forehead. This is not QUEEN behavior.”

“When, oh WHEN will African women release their minds from this mental slavery!”

And yet when a dark skinned woman with 4C hair shows up at the club or for an interview for a receptionist’s position, she is routinely passed up and overlooked for either a) a lighter skinned woman or b) a dark skinned woman who has sense enough to straighten her hair. I am here to testify that I have seen it myself with my own two Ghanaian eyes. When you add to that matrix the strength of body that a woman like Blessing Okagbare possesses, the comments and stigma outside of the safety of the sports arena is nothing short of bestial.

In an interview conducted a few years ago, Ghanaian pop singer Wiyaala discussed how growing up with a “strongbody” affected her. Wiyaala is an incredibly strong woman with lean muscle mass. She described how walks about her hometown would invite taunts from local boys who would shout for her to raise her shirt to prove she was a girl. She responded by embracing her androgyny and opting for a high-top close crop.

Image source: Music Unites Africa

I suspect that Blessing Okagbare – who, like Wiyaala has been active in sports since high school – has faced similar taunts. It’s probable that the hurtful words of strangers (perhaps even choices) have had some level of impact on her sartorial choices, including how she wears her hair.

You might well recall how the Black community savaged Gabby Douglas during the 2012 Olympic games over how she styled her hair. Douglas made history by becoming the first American gymnast to win gold medals in both the team and individual all-around. That vicious attack was the direct result of centuries of conditioning, and it’s something we’’re yet to be healed of.

Female athletes (Black women in particular) have added pressure of performing femininity on the field while in the midst of competition. One will have to give way to the other, because you can’t have slayed edges and slay the hundred-meter dash. The 4-6 hours required to sit in the salon while you wait to get your sew in or cornrows done is valuable training time lost. Any serious female athlete would forego the salon in pursuit of that extra second on the clock. But I can just see some pastor or some too known auntie coming to ‘advise’ the Nigerian team:

“Eh ehhh… You know you are representing the whole kontry. When you go there, don’t go with that unruly hair, eh? Let os pray…”

I’m telling you, I’ve sat at dinner with the son of a Ghanaian mogul who nearly spat his whiskey in disgust over the idea that the Pretoria High girls who were fighting to wear their natural hair and locks.

“There is no way in Ghana that we will ever allow a girl to come to class with that BUSHY hair!”

Look: Any woman who wears a wig knows that there is always a hazardous risk with making that choice. There is ALWAYS a chance of it getting blown off, snatched off or simply slipping off. It’s a fact of wig-wearing life. But you can’t let a little bit of synthetic stop you from putting in that work. Blessing Okagbare responded to losing her wig in the same way generations of Black women who have felt compelled to cover their natural hair for social acceptance have for years: She simply put the mask back on and went about her business like a BAWSE CHICK. To get to this level, she has been through greater trials than her hair falling off. We should all just stop forcing her to feel embarrassment that she’s not experiencing.

And now: A short video representation of other notable African women who have (or nearly) lost their wigs while putting in that work. Honorable mention to my girl Gloria of TFH, who routinely tests the adhesive integrity of her wig glue while in the midst of praise and worship.

 

Kiki Sheard: Nothing, not even the separation from my wig, can separate me from pursuing the love of Jesus

 

Queen Bey: A fan is not a halo, but it tried it.

Kim Z: I’ll give you my wig why you pry it from my cold, icy head.

Advertisements

I Was Asked To Make A ‘Grown African Woman’ Decision Today…

Part of living in virtually any part of Africa is the expectation that you will employ house help to aid in the running of your home. No matter your socio-economic circumstances or class, the chances that there will be someone less fortunate than you are always extremely high. In the absence of a formal employer-employee arrangement (such as the one I am involved in now), many African families will barter shelter, school fees or a chance to get out of the village by “hiring” out children to more fortunate family members in metropolitan areas. It’s a sort of foster care arrangement and gives the child an opportunity to work, get an education or see life outside of the village.

It sounds idyllic, but these arrangements can frequently go badly for the child or young person involved. Benefactors emotionally and physically abuse their needy wards with more frequency than we on the continent care to admit. Hunger, name-calling and physical violence are all methods used to control and incite submission in the recipient of the arranged benevolence. It breeds mistrust and creates negative attitudes around the employer-employee relationship, often resulting in a master-subject paradigm instead. What often happens is that once the former subject grows or is promoted out of that station and now has the opportunity to lord over someone else less fortunate than them, the cycle of work and relational abuse continues. This happens in homes, offices and commercial spaces all over Africa. Ask yourself why the security guard at your local bank has the confidence (and gall) to shout at you as you park your car. It’s because he has been given a little bit of authority and because he was never given respect in his formative years now feels it imperative to demand it. Now a man, it’s his way of retaliating against oppressive authority figure(s) that he was not equipped or permitted to in his youth. This is why the bible tells us not to promote our children to wrath: they grow up to become unreasonable watchmen and bank tellers.

I digress.

I may have mentioned some time ago why one of the reasons I’m thrilled to be back on the Continent is for the simple reason that I have so much help around the house. I believe every woman should have a wife, and if she cannot get a wife then she must have a housekeeper. I LOVE my housekeeper. She keeps our house spotless and she always comes ready to retell the craziest stories about life in the Crags, the themes of which generally center on death, destruction and witchcraft. She looked after us during our 3-month visit to SA in 2011 so it was a no-brainer that she would do the same once we moved here in 2016 if her schedule permitted. She’s still as efficient as ever, but has slowed down considerably –as she put it – over the past five years. We asked if she needed help with the work, but she declined; I suppose out of fear that another (younger) woman would eventually take her job from her altogether. However, the house we’re renting is fairly large and a LOT for one person alone to look after. How could she keep her job (which was never in jeopardy) AND stave any competition? Enter: her destitute niece from Oudtshoorn. This was someone our housekeeper could control and boss about in that typical African auntie fashion.

Woohoo! I’m a feminist in the big city!

Oudtshoorn is in the Karoo, which is an aberration of a Khoi word meaning ‘desert’. There’s nothing in Oudtshoorn but some heat, some rocks, some ostriches, racism, unemployment and liquor. Lots and lots of liquor. It is from this backdrop that this niece (let’s call her Shelby) arrived. She is a coloured girl of 23 who lived on a farm with her next-door neighbor because her mother has been a drunk for the majority of her life. For her, coming to Plett had the same effect as Mary Tyler More arriving in New York. The world was big, bright, fast moving and exciting. Unfortunately, unlike MTM, Shelby did not immerse herself in work or hatch schemes that would eventually make her a woman of the world. She has made a series of poor decisions that have landed her in a pretty bad situation with dire consequences, one of which is the eviction from her aunt’s house, and consequently the loss of her employment at our house.

Four months passed without Shelby working alongside her aunt, and it was clearly very hard for her. Our housekeeper recruited a cousin to come and work with her, but the woman only lasted a week. When it became obvious that our housekeeper couldn’t handle the workload, she coaxed Shelby back, saying that I had requested her return. (A lie.) En route to our home last week, she then told my husband that I requested him to pick up Shelby because I wanted her to return to work. (Another lie. I said we’d discuss it; nothing was final.) It was against these untruths that Shelby returned to our employment: under the assumption that I desperately wanted her back in my home, when in reality it was her aunt who could not get on without her and was too proud to admit it.

I let it all slide, and that was my mistake…one that could have been potentially lethal. Fortunately, I have a bit more sense than what my face lets on.

In addition to getting Shelby her job back, our housekeeper wanted me to take on the role of counselor. She wanted me to talk to the girl about her life choices, her responsibility to her children, her colon health… Ugh! This was all too much! But this is the rent one has to pay when you have help in the house in Africa. Their problems become YOUR problems, whether you want it or not. So I did as I was requested and had a big girl talk with Shelby with the aid of some friends who spoke Afrikaans. The poor girl was reduced to a watery heap by the time we were done. The singular question: “Are the lifestyle choices you are making now helping you to become the woman you told us you want to be?” seemed to be enough to set her mind right. She has thrown herself into her work in the days since that chat on Friday.

I thought all was said and done until our housekeeper pulled me aside and began whispering to me this morning. It seems I had left something undone.

“Nehna*, you promised me last week you would shake Shelby, and you didn’t do it!”

I was utterly confused. “What? What are you talking about.”

“I ASKED you to search her and you said you would. The talk was fine, but you must also search her Nehna.”

I was about to object, but she cut me off.

“No. Please! You must do it for me! You must search her so that she feels afraid. You MUST shake her!”

I sighed and said I would. I am always doing things for my housekeeper out of obligation. But this didn’t sit well with me at all. This wasn’t a cake for her grandchild or a ride to Pick n’ Pay. What she was requesting was a violation of this young woman’s privacy based on a suspicion that I didn’t harbor in the first place.

If you are confused about my ambivalence, allow me to explain. What she wanted me to do was pat this girl down, feel through her clothing and rummage through her handbag if she had brought one. I was to do the same to her, so that it wouldn’t look like she was being singled out. Her rationale?

“I see the way she looks at the things you have brought for the kids from America. All these nice panties and clothes. I think maybe she’s going to steal them, because she has this boyfriend and she wants to look nice for him. Always she’s watching these things, and that’s why I can’t leave her to clean alone in the house. You MUST shake her, Nehna!”

Holy Christmas. Sweet Father! This was just ridiculous. After I thought about it, I was certainly not going to pat another grown woman down for any reason, most certainly not over some used tween draws. If my housekeeper wanted her niece searched, then she was going to have to do the deed herself. I was not her errand girl for this one. I had another plan instead. And at 4pm, when my housekeeper whispered that it was time for me to pull them both aside and execute my search, I informed her that she was not going to like what I did next.

A worried look clouded her face. “Hai, Nehna! You cannot ask me to pull down my pants and remove all my clothes!”

“Hei,” I grunted. “You asked me to do this thing. You can’t now tell me how you want it done. Even if I ask you to remove your underwear, bend over and cough, you must do it!” I demonstrated all of the movements for emphasis.

She laughed nervously.

Got her!

We went to my crafting room – as my housekeeper had suggested – and I turned to face the two women.

Feigning confusion, my housekeeper asked, “Oi! Shelby…what does this lady want? I wonder if everything is okay?”

Shelby shot me a worried glance.

“Everything is fine,” I assured her. “Have you decided you want to come back here to work? Do you want to keep this job?”

She nodded that she had. I smiled at her.

“Good! Then in that case, I wanted to give you something.” I produced a new packet of ladies underwear from Woolworths wrapped in a gift bag. “I picked this up for you today. I also made these for you.”

I pointed to a pair of earrings made from shweshwe that I’d sewn and assembled after my conversation with my housekeeper.

“You can have one – or both. It’s up to you. It’s just something to say welcome back, and to tell you I trust you. If there’s anything in this house that you want – or need – in this house, don’t just take it. Ask me, and if I can get or give it to you, I will. ”

Shelby’s face broke out in the biggest grin I’ve seen from the girl in the 6 months I’ve known her. She thanked me and picked up the pink earrings. Then she thought better of her choice and took the two.

Good girl.

My housekeeper began applauding, admonishing her niece to take note of how good of a woman I was.

“You see the sort of woman she is, Shelby? You see?”

I waved the compliment away and told Shelby to have a good night. She made her way toward the gate with her aunt at her back. I stopped her. She had a smile plastered on her face.

“Oh, Nehna! I love the way you did that! If not for God’s wisdom, you wouldn’t have done that!”

“Listen to me,” I seethed, cutting her off. “If you don’t trust her…if YOU suspect her of being a thief…then you can’t bring her here any more.”

“I just see the way that she looks at the things…”

“I get that. But you can’t ask me to search people that you have brought to this house because you suspect them of being a thief. If you want to search your niece, you will have to do it yourself from now on.”

She bristled. “Ok…But can we go in the room and close the door while we talk?”

I shook my head no. “Nah. We gon’ talk right here out in the open. I’m serious. If you don’t trust her, then she can’t come work here. You understand?”

“I will watch her,” she said, nodding her head.

I hated it. I hated that whole event. I know several women in Ghana specifically who would have relished the chance to force that girl to undress herself and dump out the contents of her bag in hopes of finding evidence of theft. Finding none, they would still boast to their equally privileged friends about how they “shook” the maid.

It’s good. It’s good! These young girls from the village, you can’t trust any of them. They come to the city and their eyes become wide…

What I hated even more than all of this was how my housekeeper, whom I have trusted and have much affection for, would use me as a pawn to carry out a deed with the aim of denigrating her niece because she was too cowardly to do the act – or just talk to the girl – herself. That made me feel sullied. My sister, Ngosa put it best.

Alas, this is what it means to be a ‘big woman’ in Africa: to be cruel, unreasonable and unrepentant about it. I am not naïve. I know that giving Shelby new panties and custom earrings won’t necessarily prevent her from stealing from us if she wanted to. Kindness if often rewarded with treachery. But feeling her up or shouting curses at her is no guarantee as a guard against theft either. All I know is, offering kindness allows me to sleep much better at night, and I will choose kindness wherever possible.

 

Are you still here? Great! Talk to me about your experience with Big Women/Men either as someone under their authority or as one yourself. How do you relate to people who are in less fortunate circumstances? Do you browbeat or kill ’em with kindness?

*Nehna is the pet name my housekeeper assigned me in 2011.

Of Tumors, Humor and the Joke the is the American Healthcare System

This is an attempt to condense a 2-and a half-month saga into less than 2,000 words. There will be gaps in the information and series of events, but hopefully it will explain my extended absence from the blog.

 

In the Beginning…

Dec 29, 2016

In early January I hinted that I was experiencing my first migraine. It was both terrifying and thrilling. Terrifying because there was no pain to rival what I was experiencing in my cranium at the time, and thrilling because it was exactly the sort of pain I’d always hoped to gain familiarity with. I used to witness my cousin endure frequent migraines, and at 19, I thought it was so sexy. She would pop her prescription pills, sit quietly at the kitchen table and let her lashes rest against the dark circles beneath her eyes. The picture of serenity was in complete contrast to the outgoing and gregarious woman I’d known my entire life. What kind of relief did she feel after taking the pills? What was it like to be THAT quiet? I wanted to know!

Image source: paindoctor.com

Nearly 20 years later, I got my wish. After spending three days at some of the Western Capes most beautiful beaches, I began to suffer some of the most debilitating headaches I’d ever experienced. They felled me…kept me in bed for the majority of the day. There wasn’t an over the counter pill I could take that would dull the pain for more than an hour. This must be the migraine I’d so desired as a college sophomore! Now that I’d diagnosed myself, my husband dutifully went to Clinks to pick up some migraine medicine – a two-day supply cocktail of pills that rendered me barely coherent and almost motionless. A week later, I will still living with excruciating pain in my head.

Eventually – after much necessary and needed nagging from the wonderful women in my life – I found my way at the doctor’s explaining my symptoms. We ruled out meningitis (which I’d survived in 2013), as well as allergies. The doctor surmised that I probably had a tension headache, which lead to the migraine or vice versa. She prescribed 6 different pills and told me that if the headaches didn’t go away, we could investigate with a blood screen or a CT scan.

Those words proved to be key.

While on the medication, I felt wonderful. I was functional (not able to drive, though) and back to interacting with my family. I called my doctor to tell her the goodness. We were both thrilled and made no plans to see each other again. But two days after the meds ran out, the pain was back. By this time, it had been 12 days since my first headache. I did not remember my cousin suffering migraines for this long, and I was alarmed that my first migraine should last this long. However, I figured it would go away on its own if I sat still, avoided loud noises and drank some tea. It didn’t work.

I spent my birthday week alone in a cabin in agony.

 

The Diagnosis…

Feb 1, 2017

When I could no longer endure the torment, I went back my doctor. She ordered blood work and a CT scan. We had to drive to the next town to fulfill the latter. The radiologist gave us the disc with my images without a word. We then went to the otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor, aka ENT) to investigate if my discomfort was due to allergies as my GP suspected. The man was a congenial man with an intense stammer. After greeting us and making small talk, he casually popped the CD into his computer and grew very pensive.

I asked him if I could put my head on his table, as by this time I was experiencing fierce pain.

“S-s-s-so this is your b-b-b-rain…,” he said. “And n-n-n-n-not to alarm you, b-b-b-but there’s a mass that sh-sh-sh-sh-shouldn’t be there.”

It took me a while to register what he was saying because of how it was being said. I had a tumor, he revealed: it was slow growing and about the size of a golf ball. Judging by its dimensions, it’d been growing for about 10 years. It appeared to be full of fluid and was most likely the cause of my persistent headaches. It did not appear to be malignant, however.

“A neurologist would have to confirm this diagnosis,” he admitted.

I lifted my forehead from his desk to acknowledge that I’d heard him. Then I began to both cry and fight back my tears. I mean, you hear the words “brain” and “tumor” and you expect the worst. Marshall took my hand and squeezed it. The otolaryngologist placed his hand on top of ours and did the same. Struggling through his stammer, he assured me it was not as bad as it seemed.

“Besides, you have worse things to worry about. Donald Trump is president!”

I laughed, despite the pain, despite the grim prognosis, despite it all.

Yeah. Things could always be worse.

 

Go With the Money! Follow Your Insurance.

Feb 4, 2017

 My South African medical Avengers gave me options and advice about where and how to seek treatment to remove my tumor. There were several skilled surgeons in the country who could easily remove it, “Or since your insurance is in the States, you could go back home and have it removed there.”

Besides my husband, I had only told a handful of friends about my diagnosis. All of them offered well wishes and prayer. Two of them paid for and arranged my flight back to America, and a mere 3 days after I discovered I had a meningioma I was on my way into the country.

There was a herd of cattle on the South African Airways flight all the way from Jo-burg to Dakar, something I was both horrified by and grateful for. One of the side effects of the tumor+medication+altitude was severe gas, so while I was sickened by the stench of cow manure in the hull, it concealed the stink of the intestine coiling gas I was releasing in my seat. I pitied the guy sitting next to me, but only a bit. He commandeered the armrest between us, so fart guilt-free I did.

I arrived in Washington, DC on the 5th. After we’d deliberated about where to get surgery, a friend of mine had already begun making arrangements for me to receive care at Johns Hopkins Hospital (JHH) in Baltimore. Johns Hopkins has a system whereby new patients are routed through a medical concierge who handles your case, the pertinent paperwork and functions as a go-between for the patient and the doctor(s).

My concierge was awful. The woman was mediocre in the performance of her duties at best and rarely engaged her brain in the execution of those duties. I’m not saying this to be cruel – it’s just true. In the week I spent working with her, I was no closer to getting surgery than I was on the beach in South Africa. After five days of emailing back and forth with her (and she would only respond to my emails at the end of the day just before she was leaving the office) it was determined that I could not see a neurosurgeon for a consultation until I’d had an MRI done. Why could she have not told me that on Day 2, at least? Despite knowing that I was staying in Fairfax, VA, she scheduled my MRI to be done on the JHH campus, 2 hours away from my address… and for February 20th, 11 days away.

By this time, I had run out of the steroids my SA doctor had given me to help shrink the tumor and had no prescription pain pills left. It being Black History Month, my confidence in John’s Hopkins was already low, given its history with kidnapping and experimenting on Black bodies in the early 20th century. Everyone around me was exasperated, which was making me anxious. My cousin (the one with the migraines) suggested that I go to the emergency room to seek care and eventually an MRI. I declined to follow the course of action because of respectability. Can I tell you, respectability rarely gets results? I decided to drop Johns Hopkins, their ridiculous process and inefficient staff entirely soon afterward.

Why I gotta almost kill someone to get access to healthcare I pay for by LAW every month???

I spent the next two days trying to find a neurosurgeon who would order an MRI for me so that I could get a consultation. No neurosurgeon would see me for a consultation unless I had an MRI, and I could not get an MRI unless I was a current patient…and I could not become a new patient without an MRI. It was frustrating and exhausting. Eventually, I ended up at an urgent care center and explained my dilemma.

“I just want the pain to go away,” I said to the attending physician. She was a compassionate woman who took on my frustrations as her own.

“This is just not right,” she muttered. She and an attending nurse worked diligently to get me in contact with a neurologist, who spent an inordinate amount of time talking about how “good my insurance was” and that it should be no problem at all for me to find care. He then wrote the order for an MRI and referred me to a neurosurgeon: Dr. Joe Watson.

 

Income Determines Outcomes

Feb 14, 2017

 My MRI was scheduled for Valentine’s Day at 10pm. The out of pocket cost for the procedure was $2,746 payable at the time of service. I had just met with the neurologist on the 10th, which meant that if I did not have a spare $2700 plus hanging around, I would only have four days to raise the funds or forfeit the procedure. Fortunately, and by God’s good grace, Marshall has developed the traits of a miser and provides our savings account with regular infusions. After depleting all the funds in our health savings account, I paid the balance with money from our personal savings account. Mind you, this was my personal cost even with the benefit of “good insurance”.

I was grateful to finally get the ball rolling, but the whole 2-week ordeal was troubling to me. Accessing healthcare in America was proving to be less like Grey’s Anatomy and more like John Q. The ego, bureaucracy, nonchalance and indifference of the gate-keeping paper pushers on the front lines was staggering. Unlike civilized countries – like the UK, Canada and South Africa where the life and health of patient comes first – healthcare in America is a luxury industry, socioeconomic factors, such as class and disposable income dictates quality. It also dictates outcomes.

Once behind the Iron Insurance Gates, however, I found myself treated to an entirely different experience. There were no more frustrations. The course ahead of me was clear and well plotted, and I had my surgery scheduled almost immediately. On Wednesday, Feb 22nd, I was at Inova Hospital where I submitted myself to the administrations of Dr. Watson’s skilled hands and numerous metal utensils. The surgery took 5 hours to complete (only because there were two arteries feeding my tumor and Dr. Watson had to take care not to sever them and induce a stroke) and an hour later I was groggy and talking way more than I ought to have, but I was in my right(ish) mind. A sampling of the things I am reported to have said are:

“I’m hungry. Don’t feed me like a Charles Dickens orphan!”

“Donald Trump is possessed by a demon.”

“People like penis books, but they try to act like they don’t like penis books. They wanna judge me for writing penis books, but they like them….don’t they? That’s why I stopped writing penis books!”

“Mitch (who I had been calling ‘Chan’ until he corrected me. Mitch is of Philippine descent) has soft hands…soft hands for touching my boobies…and we’re going to find him a boy toy…”

“Emily Bronte does not get her due as a writer!!!!”

I’m angry about Emily Bronte not getting her props.

On February 25th I was released from the hospital. Had I still been screwing around with Johns Hopkins, I’d probably still be waiting for a consultation TODAY.

*****

 

This is why I have been AWOL on the blog. I briefly entertained the idea of ‘bravely writing through the pain’, but I decided that doing so was. Not. My. Life. I wanted to spend the weeks that morphed into months focusing on myself, my family and the people who have shown me genuine care and concern in this span of time. Besides, not writing gave me the opportunity to do a lot more reading, an indulgence I rarely get to participate in anymore.

All the same I did miss you, MOM Squad and for those who reached out to me privately and personally, your words of encouragement and prayers have meant the world to me. If you ever find yourself in need of a neurosurgeon, I recommend Joe Watson. He’s not just a great doctor, he’s a good man. He also keeps a bowl of delicious candy in his office, which on their own are worth the trip!

 

Are you looking for copies of ‘Madness & Tea’ or any of my awesome/hilarious/colorful books? You can find them on the internet! And guess what? The internet will deliver them straight to you if you click this link.

Metro DC police confirm Stukie has been found. We should be satisfied with that.

The last time I wrote about Stukie’s disappearance, several Zambian media sources shamelessly plagiarized my work. Today I invite those same sources to copy and paste as much of this article as they wish. Everything I have to say is about you.

17 hours ago, the Twitter handle for the DC Police department reported that Suwilanji Situmbeko had been located, to the relief of many. Zambians on social media congratulated themselves for making enough noise to get their “cousin” located. It was a rare moment of national unity – as a number of users pointed out – and now they are demanding answers. So where WAS Stukie?

The reasons that folks have put forth to buttress their (assumed) right to know all the details surrounding his disappearance nclude:

  • Emotional investment
  • Spending money on data bundles to push the #WhereIsStukie hashtag, and
  • But if your boyfriend sleeps around on you and goes missing and you report it, doesn’t he owe you an explanation?

I am sure that Suwilanji is grateful for the online support he has received. I haven’t spoken to him myself, but I sent him an email to express my gratitude and relief that he’s be found alive, and I assume well.

Again, I assume he’s well. I don’t know.

When a 27-year-old man is reported missing – and has been MIA for 14 days – one can never speculate with any accuracy what the circumstances surrounding that disappearance were. And so because there is no room for speculation, an entire cabal of social media users is demanding that their curiosity be satisfied. Somehow, they have convinced themselves that they have a claim on information about what happened to Stukie.

I wonder, have any of these people asked themselves if they are prepared to deal with the truth of what happened? How will that knowledge benefit them personally, or more importantly, how does it benefit Stukie, the “cousin” and “brother” who we as professed family rallied to bring global attention to finding? What if he comes forward and explains himself…and the answer doesn’t satisfy you? What will you do then? Given the speed with which supportive Voltrons turn to virulent Trolls on Twitter, I have a fair indication of how Stukie could be treated by his “Ati! I used data-bundle – to – promote-hashtag– so-you-owe-me family”.

What if what happened to him was worse than you could imagine?

What if he was kidnapped and physically and sexually assaulted at gunpoint over the course of 14 days? Are you going to be there to walk him through the trauma?

What if his abductors only released him on condition of his silence?

What if he comes forward with information and in doing so puts his family at risk?

Or – and this will set your teeth on edge – what if Stukie had a psychotic break, imagined all the incidents he posted online and made the entire episode up in his mind? Perhaps you may recall the story about the Nigerian med school student who failed to turn up at her own graduation party and went missing for 21 days? She was so overwhelmed by her family’s expectations of her that she felt the need to escape and attempt a new life. Remember how she was scorned online (and probably in real life as well) for wasting everyone’s time and playing with OUR emotions? Do you think that that reaction was helpful to her in ANY way? Do you think a similar reaction in Stukie’s case would be healthy for him either?

I understand that people are curious. I even understand the notion that we all have a right to know. What I don’t comprehend is this idea that we must know RIGHT now. There was a time that as a culture, we understood that. We understood the importance of giving people time to process and heal. We are dealing with a real human being’s life right now. This is not a reality show or a LifeTime made for TV film. When (or if) the man is ready, he will come forward and talk about it. I can bet my last cent that there are members of the Zambian media trying to scoop his cousin and/or employer to feed this empty lust for information. Just leave this man be and let him have some peace! Because if you are ALSO not ready to come with resources to support him besides plagiarizing the work of bloggers for clicks on your website, you need to sit this one out too.

In the meantime, since Zambians have seen how effective their efforts have been at locating the lost, perhaps they can use those powers to finding lost government revenues and other missing persons who could do with similar exposure. But for now, Stukie has been found and that should be enough for all of us.

Ghoulishness on the Garden Route

It’s easy to get caught up in the splendor and beauty of South Africa’s Garden Route along the N2. This is wine country. The fields are lush and green, the earth bountiful. And yet despite all the plenty that surrounds and inundates us, there is intense poverty everywhere you look. People lack jobs, but more to the point they lack skilled labor. The Garden Route is the perfect depiction for Miles Monroe’s definition of poverty: Being in possession of resources and yet lacking the skills or knowledge to convert them into wealth.

images

Poverty along the Garden Route is just one of the many things that saddens me about what really ought to be a paradise and a safe haven. I am convinced that there is no reason anyone should live in fear or want in an area that offers so much pleasantness to the senses and the soul. And yet it is the nature of man to foul even then most exquisite of God’s creations in the name of domination… as a celestial birthright afforded to him for the sake of his maleness alone.  Why else would someone have raped and murdered Jelica* on Sunday night?

It’s tempting to blame poverty for the demise of this 27-year-old township beauty, but we know from the headlines that wealthy white men rape, molest and rob people every day. The only difference being that it’s deemed a “temporary lapse in judgment” or “white collar crime”. Criminal behavior is not a consequence of socioeconomic class. One’s environment does not determine one’s predisposition for criminal activity. Your character does. Defenders of the man who committed this heinous crime and is yet to be apprehended will certainly try to use his circumstances and environment as an excuse for his actions. These suppositions must be rejected soundly.

So what happened?

On Monday morning I set off to Kurland village to pick up our housekeeper. As I pulled into the township around 8:30, I saw a crowd of people milling around a stretch of road called “Animal Alley”, named so for the number of animal sanctuaries concentrated in the area. All up and down the road, people stood in clusters engaged in private conversations. The women looked particularly upset. There’s always something going on in The Crags. Just last week a woman was sitting on the side of road in the rain, so completely drunk that it didn’t occur to her to seek shelter. A patron at the same tavern she had left earlier got into his car and ran over her. Twice. I figured something had happened to cause the townspeople to gather so early, but nothing had prepared me for this.

Jelica’s mother passed away two years ago, and since then she’d been responsible for her own upkeep. Jobs are few and far between in this area, and I have no idea what she had to do to survive. Folk can live in their parents’ house well into their 30’s. The little I’ve uncovered about Jelica is that she was gorgeous, that she had many “boyfriends” and that her death was absolutely gruesome. Following her rape, her private parts were chopped off of her body, ostensibly in an attempt to conceal the identity of her attacker(s).

There are some who have tried to assign blame for Jelica’s death on Jelica herself. Because she did not belong to any one man, and had the audacity to formulate relationships with several men – whether romantically or not – she was therefore responsible for her rape and mutilation. It’s a popular (and stupid) idea that is not peculiar to this part of the world. From New York to Kwa-Zulu Natal, there will be both men and women who espouse these beliefs. The fact is, the other person responsible for Jelica’s death is her murderer.

The circumstances and the methodical execution of Jelica was eerily similar to LaVena Johnson. Johnson, some of you may recall, was a solider who had enlisted in the US army in 2003. Her body was found with a broken nose, loose teeth and acid poured on her genitals. She was raped and murdered by her comrades. The army ruled her death a suicide.

Like LaVena, I highly doubt that her attacker(s) will be brought to book. With so much damage done to Jelica’s body, there is little hope that there is enough evidence to lead to an arrest. Unless someone saw or heard something, her assailant is still on the loose, and that is not a comforting thought for anyone on the Garden Route. For all we know, there is a serial killer on the loose. That this brutal attack took place in an area called Animal Alley in not an irony that is lost on me.

As the holidays draw near, it is sobering to hear that more of these stories will become more frequent. December brings warm weather to Plett, but it also brings rape, robbery and death. It’s the dark side of paradise.

It’s Going to Take Some Time For Me to Learn to Pray Like an African

*Dear God: I know that I will probably be punished for what I am about to write. I may even go to hell for it…but I have to get this off my chest. I hope you will understand.

                                                            Yours sincerely and with love,

                                                                        Abena Gyekye

 

A few days ago I wrote on our family’s mission blog (34DGZ) about a demon manifestation that happened at Shack Church. The closest I’ve ever been to an alleged demon manifestation is when I was in 6th grade or thereabouts. I was living in Labone, and the kids down the street were telling me about how their half-sister was growling as their mother/aunty was beating her. Her eyes were “glowing red” in the darkness because “Mary is a witch.”

Now Mary WAS an awful little gob of phlegm and a horrible human being in general…but she was no witch. At least not in the nature my former playmates ascribed to her. She had no magical powers and couldn’t cast a spell over a pot of porridge – but she did steal and she did lie and she was rebellious for no honorable cause, and that made her close enough to an evil spirit in the African sense as would ever be.

I stopped rocking with Mary shortly after that. (This was the same chick who came over to my house to whip my sister’s behind for some candy. I told you guys about her a few years ago.)

If I were to diagnose Mary, I’d say she was criminally insane, certainly suffering from kleptomania and severely lacking in affirmation and affection. But a witch? Nah. It is my personal belief that a lot of Africans tormented by “evil spirits” just need someone to treat them with some common courtesy and need a non-judgmental ear to pour out their issues upon. You can’t do/say anything in this part of the world without the devil coming into play somewhere.

Got a stomachache? It’s the devil eating your insides.

Suffering from insomnia? It’s the witches in your village dancing in your dreams.

Your brand new car won’t start? Eeesss de devil oooo! Someone has put juju in the engine!

So anyway, because Christian African is so acutely aware of the devil’s presence and interference in daily life, the church spends an inordinate amount of time trying to cast him out.

Cast the devil out of your finances.

Cast the devil out of your ministry.

Cast the devil out of your marriage.

Cast the devil out of your children.

Eh? No, no. We cannot cast the devil out of your philandering husband who is spending all of your household finances on university girls and exploring his secret homoerotic desires with willing young men. Your husband is the head of the household. As for that one, longsuffering wife, you must just submit.

But back to the devil:

How exactly does one cast the devil out? Why, with fire, of course! The devil comes from the pit of hell where eternal flame glows and all unclean souls go to burn in agony forever. Conventional military wisdom has taught us that in warfare, we “fight fire with fire.” How much more spiritual warfare? I think this is why the typical charismatic African church spends all morning and a good portion of the afternoon praying fire.

At the exorcism I witnessed, the very earnest pastors and church mothers surrounded this young woman shouting:

“Fiya! Fiya! FIIIYA!!”

index

Oh. Was something burning? Or are we trying to burn this girl? What is the purpose of yelling “Fire!” in the house of the Lord? Ironically, the next afternoon I was on Twitter and a man tweeted a similar experience. His girlfriend had dragged him to church and in obliging, he soon found himself under a hail of “Fire!”

“We were there praying for healing and then the next moment the whole church was shouting ‘Fire! Fire! Fire!’ for one hour…”

A few weeks ago, another user tweeted his church experience where the pastor exhorted the entire congregation to ‘roar like a lion’.

“Nah, fam. I’m good”

I mean, seriously. Roar like a lion and then what?

These are the lines that I don’t think any Christian should cross. Because you know what the next step is? Obinim stomping on your wife’s belly with his leather moccasins or your daughter in the aisles on her hands and knees, following a pastor around as he asks repetitively – and rhetorically – “Where are my sheeps?” (Yes ooo. Sheeps. With an ‘s’.)

 

But you see, these are the things that get African Christians excited. (Unless they are Catholics. Catholics don’t want no part of these shenanigans.) This Sunday, I was asked to pray over a few people who had addictions in Shack Church. I mean, my prayer life is okay, but it ain’t authoritative enough to be breaking no addictions. Still, I did as I was bidden to do and prayed for folk to be released from the bondage of addiction.

It was an earnest prayer. In fact, I thought it was a very good prayer. No one was really responding, however, so I decided to switch it up a little.

“Fire! Fire! I call fiyaaa!!!!

Ohhhh….The hallelujahs came rolling in after that. I was so tempted to shout “Wind! Water! Earth!” just to see what would happen…. 😦

captain-planet

 

This is my confession, friends.

 

 

Stop laughing.

The Stunning Conclusion to The Chronicle of My Lost Bag

At 7:03 am today, my husband went out to the living room to restart our Internet. I lazily looked out of the window waiting for the sun to peek over the cliffs and provide our house some much needed warmth. We live in the shadow of a mountain, meaning sunrise is a delayed phenomenon. I heard his voice in the distance, and it had taken on a business-like tone, which was odd for this hour. His work calls to America didn’t start until around 2 pm local time.

IMG_4635

“Yes. Yes, it does have some teddy bears in it. Errrm…baby shoes? No, we don’t have a baby. That might not belong to us…”

I sat straight up in the bed. Was he on the phone with the airline about our bag? My heart began to pound fiercely against my rib cage. Just Monday, Lauren Fulford-Andrews from the Virgin Atlantic baggage service wrote me a heartfelt (probably canned_ email response about how sorry he was that my bag was lost and how unusual of an occurrence it was. He hoped that it wouldn’t change my opinion of the airline, but unfortunately there was nothing Virgin Atlantic could do about the lost luggage. It was up to South African Airways, our final carrier for our trip, to either provide reimbursement or locate my bag. In return, South African Airways pointed me back to VA, stating that the bag was NEVER scanned through Johannesburg but that I was welcome to fill out a claim form. I would have to come to Jo-burg (an 8 hour drive) or Port Elizabeth (2.5 hour drive) to do this. We drove the 2.5 hours to Port Elizabeth 2 Saturdays ago, only to discover in a follow-up call days that SAA could have emailed us the form…the woman who picked up our call that day just decided not to give us that option.

After itemizing the contents of my bag, the total to be reimbursed came to R24,000 (about $1500). As all of my Twirra followers know, the previously lost Ghana Must Go bag contained all of my winter boots, my First Lady Hat, my Sutra flat irons, several pairs of heels and an odd assortment of items. I wear a size 10 shoe and have wide calves. It’s difficult for me to source shoes that are both stylish AND a good fit because my feet and legs are not “mainstream”. So when I heard talk of items that sounded familiar to mine, I was filled with indescribable glee!

“Let me let you talk to my wife,” Marshall said, handing me the phone. “She’s the one who packed the bag so she would know.”

“Hello, M’em? This is Cyril from South African Airways in Port Elizabeth.”

“Hi! Hi, Cyril. Good morning!”

Oh my God, y’all. I felt like I was a contestant on The Price is Right.

“Yes. I think we have your bag here. It just came in from Virgin Atlantic in Jo’burg today!” Oh, really! So despite all their claims that SAA had to have the bag, VA had it all along? Cyril was still talking. “There are some teddies…so black and white teddies and a corduroy bag?”

Those didn’t sound familiar, but I HAD just packed up a whole house. Who knows what I’d stuffed in there at the last-minute. “Is there a grey dolphin in there,” I asked. Liya came crying because her Pop Pop had won her that dolphin at the Clark County fair last summer and she REALLY wanted it back!

“Yes! I see a dolphin.”

My heart began racing at a new pace.

“Do you see some boots, Cyril?”

“Yes…Some gum boots. And a big, big men’s shoe.”

That was Marshall’s one pair.

“What about black boots? Do you see any riding boots…err…tall black ladies boots?”

“I see some tekkies. A white one with pink laces…Nike. And also a black one with pink laces.”

My Nikes and New Balances. Oh my GOD! This was my bag!

“Cyril. Do you see a hat? A white hat!”

Cyril, my angel from lost baggage at South African Airways paused. He told me that he’d have to empty the whole bag to see if he could find a hat. He teased me, informing me that was stuffed pretty well. I giggled. I HAD stuffed it. I had stuffed full of my favorite boots and shoes and my sister’s hat.

“Yes. I know.”

Finally, he asked me to describe the bag itself. It is red and yellow and white, made of vinyl.

“Then m’em, this is YOUR bag!”

I squealed. I literally squealed! This luggage has been missing since May 29th. Today is June 30th. I had already resigned myself to reality that it was GONE. That I would never see my First Lady Hat again, and that I’d have to run these uglass Easy Spiritis I’d flown into the country with into the ground until I got back to the States and re-buy everything.

“We will be at your house in an hour. You can expect us at 8, ok? Maybe 8:30. Okay, you make it 9 am. We are coming now now.”

“Sure! I’ll see you then!”

I shot up out of bed and took a shower. I wanted to be clean and presentable when my bag arrived. I waltzed around the house with a smile on my face. NOTHING was going to ruin this wonderful day. The lamb that was lost was finally coming home!

At 11:21 am, the guys from SAA showed up at the door. They laid Ghana Must Go at my feet. That was my bag alright! But why did it look so… thin?

“I need to see if all the items are inside,” I said.

The man with the clipboard told me I ought to. So I did. I dumped the contents of my found bag onto the floor and couldn’t believe my eyes.

Out tumbled all of the kids’ stuffed animals.

Out tumbled two pair of sneakers.

Out came 1 purple Sam Edelman heel and 1 black Pink & Pepper heel. Their mates were NOWHERE to be found.

Out tumbled my beaded Kenyan flip flops and a Guess satchel I’d bought Aya to play dress up with when she was 5.

Out came 1 pair of rain boots.

No leather riding boots.

No suede tall boots.

Nadjah’s Tommy galoshes were a vapor.

My quilted waterproof boots were nowhere to be seen.

The Sutra and BayBliss flat irons? You can just forget that. Those run at $120-150 a piece.

The First Lady Hat?

*Sigh*

This was the last time the hat was seen or worn in public. :(

This was the last time the hat was seen or worn in public. 😦

Essentially, they took everything of value…anything with a label, from the bag. I looked at the driver and his mate as though they were bringing me news of Hodor’s death. No…as if they were Brandon Stark trying to explain away their part in Hodor’s death! What a betrayal. What a violation! I felt hollow inside. I still do.

“Some of my things are missing.” My lips curled as though I had just been made to swallow cat urine – a hoax, thinking it was lemonade.

The driver shrugged. “You can call this number and file a claim for the missing items. I’m sure your husband is very familiar with the procedure.”

He impatiently asked me to sign a sheet of paper saying he’d delivered the bag. I refused to sign it. I told my husband he could have that “honor”. I didn’t want my name anywhere near that fraudulent sheet of parchment.

I felt cheated. Like I’d been invited to a banquet, gotten all dressed up, and only been served moldy bread and tepid water. Why would someone DO this? Why would you take SO MANY things that don’t belong to you??? Why, Virgin Atlantic? Why, South African Airways? Why, white Jesus?

So this how the story ends. I have my bag, but I don’t have my stuff.

There is no way I’m getting my stuff back. They can’t be traced. I may get compensated for my stolen belongings, or I may not. Virgin and South African may try to toss me about the same way they’ve been doing for the past 30 days. Even if they do reimburse me for my stolen items, where would I go to shop? Plettenberg Bay is a village….a beautiful village…but they don’t have diverse shops that cater to women of my stature.

I fault Virgin Atlantic for this entire fiasco. They said SAA had the bag in their possession and they never did until today. SAA gets a lot of flack and has a bad reputation in the industry for losing passenger’s items, but this time it wasn’t their fault. There is no version of this that ends with Richard Branson on my door step personally apologizing for hiring sticky fingered goons in his organization. There is no version of this where I spend my first winter in South Africa with warm feet. There is only this lengthy form that I fill out and send back into the ether with hopes that an agent takes the time to give it serious consideration.

But FIRST, I have to fill out a police report and have an officer stamp it with an official seal. Can you believe that? YOU (Mr. Airline) jack ME and I have to swagger into the police office to report you. You know you are a thief. Go and report yourself!

 

PS: I’m aware that there are loads of typos in this post. I don’t care. I can’t go back and revisit this. It’s just too painful.

 

Have you ever been robbed by an airline? Did you get justice? DO you think Richard Branson will come by for tea and tell me how sorry he is that his company mucked up?